Period Acne: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments
Dr. Palki Sharma

Dr. Palki Sharma

May 19Menstrual health

Period Acne: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

This article has been compiled by Vaibhavi Kodnani, a content writer at Proactive For Her.

Any acne that develops around the time of your period is called period acne. Period acne or period pimples occur under the influence of hormonal changes during the cycle. It usually lasts for 7-10 days and subsides once your period begins. Under the following two situations, you may notice the development of acne:

  • During the second half of the menstrual cycle: At this point, the progesterone levels in your body increase. It peaks the sebum production that causes acne.

  • Before your period: Right before your period, the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone levels drastically drop. At the same time, testosterone levels are higher, causing increased sebum production in the body. It, in turn, clogs the pores and leads to the development of acne.

Period acne typically develops on

  • The lower part of the face, i.e. the chin or jawline
  • The neck
  • The bikini line
  • The back

If you already have acne

If you are already dealing with acne, you may notice a flare-up of acne right before or during your periods. Suppose you have acne-prone skin, you may get nodular or cystic acne that is deep-seated and painful at the time periods. This kind of acne takes some time to subside.

What kinds of acne can occur during the cycle?

Due to increased sebum production, your skin will be oilier than usual and cause acne as well. Depending on your skin type, various kinds of acne can start appearing at different times of your menstrual cycle.

Comedonal acne: In the second half of your menstrual cycle, you might notice increased comedones, i.e. blackheads and whiteheads.

Pustular acne: You may develop pustular acne at the time of your periods. It is acne filled with pus.

Nodular or cystic acne: It could also be nodular acne or cystic acne - both these types are extremely painful. It is deep-seated acne accompanied by swelling and redness of the skin around the acne.

Will you develop period acne?

Whether you will develop period acne or not will depend on your skin type and your hormones. Some people already have high sebum production in the body. Hence they get acne during periods. Then if you have high testosterone levels, there is a higher possibility of you developing period acne.

Medical treatments for period acne

Although there is no absolute cure for period acne, it is possible to manage using oral medications and topical applications. If you suffer from troublesome period acne every month, consult a dermatologist who can prescribe you an appropriate course of medicines based on the frequency, severity and kind of acne. Here is a guide of effective medications for period acne.

Oral contraceptives 

Since period acne occurs due to hormonal imbalances, it is important to balance them to prevent and manage acne symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe you a low dose of oral contraceptives if you have recurrent period acne, especially nodular acne. It will stabilize the estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels in your body.

Anti-androgen drug

Spironolactone is an anti-androgen drug that decreases the amount of testosterone in the blood. Thus, the sebum production causing the acne will automatically reduce too.

Cyclic antibiotics

If you only get 1-2 pimples before your periods, then your doctor may advise you to take cyclic antibiotics for 3-4 days before your period begins.

Isotretinoin

Isotretinoin, a Vitamin A derivative, is an oral medication given for acne. It is a mainstay treatment for any form of acne, especially for the more severe ones. Based on your symptoms, the doctor may put you on a low dose of isotretinoin for 10 days. You will have to start the medication 3-4 days before your period and continue it for 3-4 days more once your period begins.

Topical application

Apart from the above-mentioned oral medications, you may also be given topical retinoids or antibiotics or benzoyl peroxide topical. Out of these, benzoyl peroxide is an over-the-counter (OTC) drug. When you develop acne before your periods, you can apply a drop of benzoyl peroxide over the pimples. It will dry up the acne faster.

Home remedies for managing period acne

If you are experiencing active acne, you will have to take medications for the treatment. However, to ease your acne symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, redness and soreness, you can try the following home remedies.

Warm compression: Place a warm compress on the affected area 3-4 times for 10-15 minutes. Continue it until the symptoms diminish.

Cold compression: You can also apply an ice cube for 5-10 minutes to help settle the redness and swelling caused due to acne.

Green tea ice cubes

Green tea is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Keep these green tea ice cubes ready a few days before your period starts. So you can apply them to your acne to attain some relief. It will lessen the inflammation, redness and soothe that area.

Ingredients:

  1. Green tea - 1 bag
  2. Water - 1 glass

Recipe:

  1. Take a green tea bag, cut it and empty its contents in one glass of water.
  2. Then, boil the green tea.
  3. Strain it and pour it into an ice tray.
  4. Freeze the green tea. After a few hours, your green tea ice cubes will be ready to use.

period acne

The best skincare routine for managing period acne

A good skincare morning and evening routine will further help in managing your acne. Follow it diligently every day to see the results.

Face wash:

  • Choose a face wash with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid or any other form of AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid).
  • If you have acne-prone skin, then start with 1% of salicylic acid and then build it up to 2% of salicylic acid.
  • If you are not using AHA or BHA based face wash, then go for tea tree oil or mytracine based facewash to remove the excess oil from your face.
  • Wash your face with the recommended or prescribed face wash at least twice a day to control sebum production.
  • If you work out, wash your face after your workout session as well. Even though the sweat evaporates, the sweat salts accumulate in the follicles of your pores.
  • Wet your face with normal or lukewarm water to open up your pores. Then, apply the face wash and gently massage it in a circular motion for 15-20 seconds. Wash your face with normal water to remove the face wash. Lastly, give a final rinse with cold water to close the pores.
  • The act of applying the face wash, massaging it on your face and washing it should not exceed 30 seconds. Overwashing can remove natural oils, so be careful not to do that.
  • After washing your face, wipe it with clean tissue paper or a separate towel. Do not use the bathing towel that you use to wipe your body.

Sunscreen:

  • Always remember to apply sunscreen in the daytime.
  • Your sunscreen should be based on your skin type. If you have oily skin, choose a gel-based or light sunscreen. If you have dry skin, moisturising sunscreen will work best for you.

Face mask:

  • You can use a face mask at least twice a week.
  • The face mask will depend on your skin type. You can opt for green tea or white tea face masks as they work for all skin types.

Lifestyle, diet and personal hygiene changes for managing period acne

Giving importance to lifestyle and diet changes to manage acne is also important.

Focus on your diet: Eating a healthy, nutritious diet will prevent acne from aggravating. It will also help you manage the other PMS symptoms that you may be experiencing. It is advisable to reduce the amount of sugar, milk, refined flour items, junk food, fried foods and fruit juices a week before your period begins. If you have acne-prone skin, you should avoid these food items at all times. High glycemic index foods are also not recommended.

Keep yourself hydrated: Make it a habit to drink lots of water throughout the day. Maintain a separate water bottle for yourself, and don’t forget to carry it wherever you go.

Give importance to night sleep: Acne can also worsen due to stress or inadequate sleep. Try to have an early dinner and sleep by 11 PM to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleeping late can deprive you of the REM or deep sleep cycle that can have adverse side effects.

Engage in relaxing activities: Remove some time for yourself and do meditation, breathing exercises and yoga daily. All of these will also help you de-stress.

Drink saffron water: Saffron water is beneficial in balancing out the hormones. Hence, it will indirectly help with your PMS symptoms such as stress and period cramps. You must drink it every single day to reap its benefits.

Ingredients:

  1. Saffron - 2 petals
  2. Water - 1 glass

Recipe:

  1. Boil 2 petals of saffron in the water.
  2. The saffron will disperse its colour, and the water will become orange to brown. At this point, you can turn off the gas and keep it aside for cooling.
  3. Then, drink it on an empty stomach in the mornings.

Adopt personal hygiene habits: Firstly, as your pillowcase collects all the oils and dirt, you must change it at least twice a week. Flip your pillow to the other side after one use. Secondly, always keep your phone screens clean so that the dirt does not transfer on your face while talking on the phone, etc.

Do not pick your acne: Resist your urge to pick acne or popping pimples as it can increase the irritation, swelling and redness in that area. Secondly, as it may be deep-seated nodular or cystic acne, squeezing it can transfer the infected sebum to the adjacent pores and spread the acne further.

Makeup tips: Do light makeup in the second half of your cycle so that your skin can breathe. Also, keep your makeup tools clean at all times, as they are a hub for bacteria and dust. On other days, you can apply regular makeup.

Ways of preventing period acne

If you struggle with period acne, you have to take proactive measures to prevent it.

Know your menstrual cycle: It will help you take preventive measures such as taking cyclic antibiotics, using benzoyl peroxide or antibiotic creams. Follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Follow appropriate skincare for acne: Following a skincare routine for acne-prone skin will be beneficial. If you adhere to the treatments advised by your doctor throughout the month, it will help manage your acne well. Keep in mind the lifestyle, diet and hygiene changes too.

 

Do spot treatment: Whenever you develop acne, you can apply benzoyl peroxide to manage it.

Recommended skincare brands

The below-mentioned brands have good skincare products.

  • Ducray Keracnyl
  • Dermaceutic
  • Sesderma
  • Cetaphil
  • Avene

Even if you are buying anti-acne products from other common brands, remember that they should have salicylic acid, glycolic acid that can reduce sebum production.

When does period acne demand medical attention?

You must consult a doctor if you notice any of these four symptoms apart from acne. All of these signs can be related to PCOS.

  • Irregular periods
  • Hair fall
  • Pigmentation: dark patches in your underarms or bikini area or back of the neck
  • Facial hair around your upper lips, on your chin or jawline. Increased hair growth on your back, chest or around your navel.

Bottom line

If you develop 1-2 pimples around your periods, it is manageable at home with skincare tips and remedies. However, if the acne covers 30-40% of your lower face every month during periods, then you must consult a dermatologist. Based on your condition, they will prescribe you a combination of oral medications, antibiotic ointments, retinoid cream, etc. Along with that, follow a skincare regime and take other precautions.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

ProactiveForHer is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.